Monday 13 January 2014

The Battle of Matigulu

Posties Rejects gathered over the weekend for our first game of the year, and once again Postie pulled out something new from his collection for us to play with. This game used The 1879 Zulu War and Boer Zulu Conflict rules written by Richard Tory for 15mm wargaming, ably adapted by Postie for the 6mm scale figures in his collection. I think this scale suits these sorts of battles really well with massive Zulu regiments that completely dwarf the Imperial forces arrayed on the games table

"The sentries report Zulus to the southwest. Thousands of them."

Setting the Scene
Part of Number 1 Column under the command of Colonel Pearson is heading into Zululand and the Zulu's have sent an Impi to stop the invading army. Historically the Zulu army was much smaller in this area and the British force should be twice the size represented, but in order to facilitate a challenging battle - and to test posties adaption of the rules for this scale - the number of warriors facing each other have been changed. The game starts with the Imperial column flanked by various mounted volunteer units slowly making its way into Zululand. Meanwhile the Zulu Army has been watching the column and has picked a suitable ambush location. The Imperial forces are strung out in a long column and the Zulu Impi appears suddenly on the surrounding hills, almost as if they sprung from the ground like a swarm of ants. 

Order of Battle
Zulu Army - C/O Mnyamana Kangqengelele) 
   Centre (Head) - Zibshebheu Kamapitha (Cetshwayo's Cousin) - Mark
     Ibutho 6 Udududu 
     Ibutho 7 Imbube
     Ibutho 8 Isangqu (Veterans)
     Ibutho 9 Umkhlulutshane (Veterans)
     Ibutho 10 Umsikaba
   Loins (Left Flank) - 2ic Mavumengivana Kandlela - John
     Ibutho 12 Amakwenke
     Ibutho 16 Uve
     Ibutho 18 Umbonambi
  Loins (Right Flank) - 3ic Somopho Kazikhala - Dave
     Ibutho 21 Unokhenke
     Ibutho 23 Uruhlonga
     Ibutho 25 Umkapo

Imperial Army - Number 1 Column - C/O Colonel Pearson
   99th Foot - C/O Commander Campbell
     A Company - Royal Marines
     A Company 99th Foot
     B Company 99th Foot
     C Company 99th Foot
     D Company 99th Foot
     Naval Gatling Gun
     Naval Rocket Tube
   3rd Foot - C/O Colonel Pearson
     A Company 3rd Foot
     B Company 3rd Foot
     C Company 3rd Foot
     D Company 3rd Foot
     7pdr Royal Artillery Gun
     7pdr Royal Artillery Gun
   Colonial Mounted Volunteers
     Natal Hussars
     Durban Volunteers
     Stanger Volunteers
     Victoria Mounted Rifles
   2nd Regiment Natal Native Contingent - Commandant AW Cooper
     10 Companies of NNC
   2 Waggons of Food and Supplies
   2 Waggons of Ammunition

The Action
The Zulu Impi arranged on a crescent of hills prepare to launch their ambush of the Imperial Column. Mark (r) is overall commander for the Zulu's with John (c) in charge of the Zulu Right flank and Dave (out of shot) in command of the Zulu Left flank. Here Postie is explaining the disposition of the forces and giving some background to the battle. 
Commander Campbell leads the 99th Foot supported by a Naval Rocket Battery. The rockets were mixed bag in this game because I kept on rolling 10's resulting in low ammo markers being placed on them which reduced their effectiveness. 

One of the 'smaller' Zulu Ibutho (regiments). Each base had 16 figures on it meaning they could absorb large numbers of casualties. The white marker represents a units that has yet to be fired upon and therefore hasn't had its bravery 'tested' (a one off penalty to moral tests).

Surjit commanded the 3rd Regiment of Foot and the Natal Native Contingent as well as two Artillery pieces and some Natal Mounted Volunteers.  The NNC's effectiveness was always in doubt but they far out performed what any of us expected. Postie may tweak his house rules in future to make then a little more unreliable than they were in this battle. 

Mark, overall Commander for the Zulu Army in this game begins to move his Ibutho forward. 

John likewise begins the advance of his troops down the right flank of the Imperial troops.

On the Imperial Left Flank Dave begins the advance of his troops. His Ibutho had a particularly hard time advancing through disciplined and sustained fire from the 99th Foot. His largest units (the one being moved here) was forced to go to ground for most of the game and lost over half the warriors in its ranks. 

The naval Rocket Battery and Gatling guns did a lot of damage during the game and would have done more if they hadn't fallen low in ammo (resulting from a roll of a 10 on a ten sided dice when rolling to hit). Both pieces had to be resupplied twice during the battle. 

First blood to the Imperial troops. The Gatling Gun & Rockets inflict 15 casualties in the first turn on this Zulu formation forcing a moral check (denoted by the green dice which is being used as a token). The unit failed its test and was forced to go to ground for several turns, as were most of the other Ibutho on this flank in subsequent turns.

The 3rd Foot under Surjit have formed a strong line and have deployed one of the artillery pieces. However he has moved his Natal Native Contingent to occupy the hill on the far right (on the edge of this picture) putting them on a suicidal collision course with a massive Zulu regiment heading directly for them. Worse still (IMHO) he supported this action with a valuable artillery piece. meanwhile at the top of the picture two Natal Mounted Volunteer units are about to be wiped out having failed to be withdrawn as the Zulus surged forward. 

A wider shot of the same moment showing both flanks of the Imperial column. The plan (or so I thought) was to fall back in good order - ie walking and firing continuously - towards the area slightly to the left of where the dice are in this picture. Here we would 'redoubt' with good fire arcs in all directions and pour firepower into the Zulu's until either they broke or we were overwhelms. 

The demise of one of the Natal Mounted Volunteer Companies. I felt these units would have been more profitably employed as living troops bolstering the fire line formed by the regulars (which is how I used then on the left flank), but clearly Surjit had a 'better' idea. 

The Unokhenke Ibutho was huge but by the end of the game it had suffered over 50% casualties from Imperial firepower. 

In these rules firing takes place before movement, but that movement is limited if the units has fired. For the British that meant that the fallback move would be 2" instead of 4" but they would be able to plough volley after volley into the Zulu ranks. Sufficient fire was lain down by the 99th Foot (on the imperial left flank) to halt the entire Zulu right wing. Similarly the Zulu left wing lost one routed unit and another was forced to ground, but the 'head' of the Impi continued to press forward. 

The 99th Foot (left) are giving ground in good order - albeit slower than I had calculated - and causing significant casualties with volley fire. Meanwhile the 3rd Foot have advanced (wtf !?!) and appear to be reinforcing the Natal Native Contingents (out of shot) on the hill to the far right in this picture.

One Zulu Ibutho has reached the hill and is about to be charged (!) by some of the NNC companies. The rules specified that NNC units had to make a moral check within 8" of the Zulus but all units succeeded and went on to far outperform all our expectations of them. Postie may have to reevaluate the rules regarding these units in future because even the Imperial players had to admit this was unrealistic. 

The 99th Foot are continuing to fall back in good order but not nearly as fast as I had hoped. By now the gap in our centre was becoming obvious and Surjits 3rd Foot appeared to have abandoned our plan to form a 'redoubt' further back entirely. 

The 99th Foot falling back slowly but in very good order were able to check the advance of the entire right flank of the Zulu Impi with sustained volley fire. 

Heading for the centre of the British lines is this impressive looking regiment of Veterans. They only took casualties towards the end of the battle but the British were fortunate these guys never made it into melee. 

Meanwhile Dave makes use of one of the few topographical features of note on the battlefield, this shallow dried riverbed. His attempt to outflank the 99th Foot was only held in check by the gallant efforts of the two Natal Mounted Volunteers...the two units I had saved from destruction at the beginning of the battle by pulling them back quickly into my firing line. 
The Uve Ibutho on the Zulu left flank are charge into two unfortunately placed companies of Natal Native Contingent. Needless to say the result was predictable although worse was to come with the Zulu's gaining a breakthrough charge onto much more valuable units behind these. 

The Zulu's breakthrough charge runs into one of the 7pdr guns which is also destroyed. Luckily the Zulu's (ie John) had a bad dice roll and they took six casualties in this melee. Unfortunately this seemed to give Surjit a false feeling of security and he appeared to be convinced that our Line infantry would be able to repulse a similar charge by the Zulu's. This theory would be tested in the next turn.  

Meanwhile the 99th Foot have continued to fall back to a pre-planned 'Redoubt' location that has long since become a forgotten plan (at least by one half of the army!). 

Meanwhile the Natal Volunteers give their lives to hold back an outflanking Zulu Ibutho which is trying to use the dried riverbed to avoid taking fire. 

The Imperial troops begin to realise that they have a vast gap in their line and try to reform a viable fire line but over on the right flank the Zulu's are about to make their final play.

The 'Head' of the Zulu Impi continues to moved forward under heavy fire. Some regiments are halted by concentrated firepower but fresh units continue to push forward. Meanwhile the Imperial right flank is crumbling and Zulu's are massing for a final charge...

In fact the Zulu's are so confident they have brought their cattle along with them!

The final move. The Zulu Uve Ibutho on the right moved off the hill and quickly sweeps aside more companies of the Natal Native Contingent and then follows up by slamming into the two remaining companies of the 3rd Foot. One British infantry company is destroyed and the other is routed. Fortunately the Zulu regiment also has to retire but now there is no longer anything standing between the centre Zulu regiments of the Impi and the exposed flank of the 99th Foot.  

This is the point at which we called it a day and conceded defeat. Well I did, Surjit was still under the impression (some would say delusion) that we could drag victory from the jaws of defeat. He was ready to fight to the last man and, given a enough time, I'm sure he would have had a chance to do just that.

This was always going to be a tough and bloody engagement pitting British Discipline and firepower against the incredible bravery and vast numbers of the Zulu's. In essence this should have been a simple strategic situation for both sides; The Zulus closing with the invaders as quickly as possible and the Imperial forces using their massed volley fire to destroy the massed ranks of the enemy. But as is the way with wargamers I think we all over analysed the situation and made the battle more complex than it really was.

I can't really speak for the Zulu commanders but on the Imperial side there was some brief discussion of strategy, with Surjit initially wanting to engage the Zulu left flank. In the end I was able to persuade him that any engagement of the Zulu's would be suicidal. Instead we agreed to to form up in two disciplined lines and then fall back into a single defencive perimeter to maximise the length of time we could pour firepower into the enemies ranks. When play commenced this simple plan was adhered to for approximately 30 seconds, a new record for my comrade in arms! I immediately pulled back my Natal Mounted Volunteers and reformed them as dismounted units in the line with my regular foot units. They survived most of the game and were able to add their firepower to the battle until the very end. The two Mounted Volunteer units under Sujits command (on the right hand side of the table) were not withdrawn and were consequently wiped out in melee in the first turn for little gain.

Initially Sujits foot companies were lined up as I thought we had agreed but over subsequent turns rather than falling back and keeping a good distance from the enemy he moved his units forward and to the right (ie away from my half of the command). He did this to support the valiant efforts of the Natal Native Contingent which was doing incredibly well on our right flank but in so doing this opened a huge gap in our centre that we would later find very hard to plug. I don't think either of us realised how serious this would be but I also think Surjit was unrealistic in his assessment of how effective our troops would be in a melee. No matter how good our infantry were with their bayonets, nothing could change the fact that they were outnumbered fifty to one and with such odds a close quarters fight could only ever go one way. Even if the unimaginable had happened and we had won a melee with incredible dice rolls, our losses would have been unsustainable. And this was the simple calculation I had made when I said "do not get into melee with the Zulus" back at the beginning when we had discussed strategy.

This was a very hard fought battle and although the Zulu's could claim a victory it was a minor one and certainly not a sustainable way to wage war. By the end of the game they had lost over 30% of their army, somewhere between 3500-4500 warriors. King Cetshwayo would most certainly not have been happy to have lost so many brave warriors. 


  1. Surjit up to his old tricks, you have to slap him to get anything through hid stubborn head and a loss but a good looking and sounding game, Postie is putting on a game this Saturday as well!

    1. I should have been a bit more assertive! Lol. Mind you there was a fair bit of 'gamesmanship' going on from all the players (more than just the normal banter) so it made it a little hard to get a bloody word in!

    2. Banter??? In the shed?? Never??

  2. Very nice, great looking minis...

    1. Its Posties collection... I never knew he had them until he brought them out.

  3. Wow! Thought I was watching 'Zulu Dawn' for a minute there...
    Must say, I can never fail to be impressed by Postie's shed - excellent; serious envy...

    1. It was a spectacular game and I think it could only have been pulled off with 6mm figures and a huge table.

  4. Great report and one fine looking battle!

  5. I had a look at the table and set up the day before, you were always going to find it hard, but its always difficult when you've got the Surjmiester on your side. A great looking game though, gutted I couldn't make it!!!

    1. It was a good game and you are right, it was going to be difficult. There was no subtlety about this battle, it was always going to be a butchers field. For the British that meant no mucking about, form line and pray to god you kill enough Zulu's before they roll over your lines!! Tactically boreing maybe, but it was what was required to have any hope of winning.

  6. Not only is Surj not an admiral but he's not a general either!!!
    Once you'd split your force and advanced on us I knew we would win! Have you never watched 'Zulu'!?!

    1. To be fair, I was too far over as well which made the gap even bigger. But at least I maintained a diciplined firing line and retreated in good order throughout the game. Right up to the last couple of turns my regiment was virtually undamaged (I'd only lost the Volunteer units at that point) and both my 'artillery' pieces were still operational. Surj had started the game with a mauch larger force than me (1 regiment, 2 volunteers, 2x 7pdr guns and ten companies of NNC) but had lost pretty much all of his troops.

    2. I admidt my entire tactical undestanding of the period is based on the film Zulu...which is why I said to Surj at the very beging not to engage the Zulu's in melee. When we went outside to 'discuss' strategy I was explicit in saying that this battle wasn't going to be about holding ground. It was always going to be about survival, and that meant falling back until we either ran out of bullets or ran out of targets.

    3. Your end performed rather well - Dave was pinned down and making little headway except in the donga. If you - as a team - had laagered properly and put out range markers I reckon you would have won - not withstanding the Zulus surprisingly good marksmanship!

    4. I'd forgotten about the range markers... the option was discussed and moved over pretty quickly and I didn't think any more about it, but its clear now we could have gained a valuable bonus from these. In hindsight we should have asked more questions about how they would work because I think we thought the markers would be removed (and the bonus negated) if we changed position. Maybe that wouldn't have been the case but we dropped the idea too quickly without exploring the idea properly. Worth bearing in mind should we revisit these rules again in a future game.

  7. Nice pics. Great example how a big table combined with really tiny figures can actually look like a real battle.

  8. My relative John Carroll was one of the Royal Marine Artillery crew on the rockets in this column

    1. That's incredible... The rockets were pretty good in this game but for a change I was rolling too good, tens on a ten sided dice. It meant I did huge amounts of damage but then the rockets were low on ammo so in subsequent turns it was less effective. I had to resupply both the rocket and the Gatling Gun twice during the supply cart was weaving back and forth behind my lines for the whole game!

  9. I would have liked to have been involved. Maybe another time when you are short of players. As ever it all looks good and I can imagine it played quite fluidly with simple yet effective rules that Postie likes.


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